The answer is, very. I came to this conclusion after a recent trip to Detroit, MI, also known as the “motor city.” I was there to attend the Detroit Food 2017 Summit and participate in WhyHunger’s Midwest Gathering of emergency food providers who came together to discuss the emergency food system and think about how we can collectively transform it to one that focuses on long-term solutions and is socially just, to truly end hunger. With that purpose in mind, learning about using narrative change as a strategy to achieve that transformation was a key activity. Narrative, or stories, influence our perspectives on every issue, including our view of hunger and poverty, and we hear them every day, be it through the media, friends, family, coworkers, books, etc. As we take in news we should think about the words used, how they were said, who is saying them and why.

Think about the stories you’ve heard of about Detroit. Now, what immediately comes to mind? Perhaps bankruptcy? Abandoned homes? Urban? Poor? Well, I’d like to help shift that narrative a bit by giving examples of a resilient community, thriving businesses, urban gardens and hope. Below, are the community-led organizations and businesses I got to learn a little about during my time in Detroit. Hopefully, even as short summaries, they leave you as inspired as I was.

Georgia Street Collective

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Resident Mark Covington started The Georgia Street Community Collective (GSCC) in 2008. Originally, it was meant to be a beautification project but as they cleaned up the empty lots in the neighborhood Mark became inspired to start a community garden. He wanted to help the elders in the area who struggle to pay for both medicine and food, and empower the youth and provide them with structure. GSCC is achieving that by focusing on health, education, leadership skill development and protection to rebuild and sustain their community one house at a time. They offer school supply giveaways, holiday dinners, Easter egg hunts and more – all free to residents. They sell honey and eggs, and one of their goals is to have a fully functional greenhouse by next year. You can give a donation or learn more here.

Detroit Friends Potato Chips Co.

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Located in Detroit’s Hope District, Detroit Friends Potato Chips. Co. is a wonderful example of a locally-grown, sustainable business that gives back. So wonderful in fact, that Oprah even knows about them! Detroit Friends is the brainchild of Michael Wimberley who wanted to renew his relationship with the earth and think about ways he could help fix Detroit’s economy by creating work and opportunity for those around him. Detroit Friends started growing potatoes on a vacant lot and soon realized making potato chips could be the right business model for them. Mike enrolled in a food lab business incubator, and after many tries and failed experiments; their potato chip was born. Their story caught attention of Oprah Winfrey and in 2016 they made it into Oprah’s Favorite Things list. Mike’s advice, “Be entrepreneurial, and never give up.” Detroit Friends gives back to the community by sourcing their Russet potato from a 3rd-generation farmer in MI and has become a community hub by having a soup kitchen and senior program. Order these delicious chips here, I personally recommend the Lemon Pepper flavor :)

The Farmer’s Hand

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Last, but certainly not least, is the woman-owned The Farmer’s Hand located in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood. Founded by Rohani Foulkes and Kiki Louya, The Farmer’s Hand is part grocery, part café, and part farmers market that is dedicated to selling 100% locally grown and produced goods. As Kiki explained to us, they believe in growing agriculture in Michigan and helping farmers earn a living wage to create a better ecosystem. Developing personal relationships with farmers and telling their stories is essential, so people know where their food came from. They have over 100 different partners, 70 cents of each dollar goes directly back to their partners and they focus on providing seasonal, culturally appropriate foods. Check out their website to learn more and be sure to visit next time you’re in Detroit!

After reading a little about these community groups and organizations, I hope now when you hear “Detroit” you think about something different - the amazing people, thriving small businesses, food justice and self-determining communities. We should all think critically and evaluate the different narratives we hear and challenge ourselves to speak up or add new perspectives to conversations when we can.

This spotlight is a feature of WhyHunger’s digital storytelling that showcases grassroots organizations and community leaders through dynamic stories and pictures, to give a real view of projects that are working to alleviate food insecurity and increase communities’ access to nutritious food. We believe that telling one’s story is not only an act of reclaiming in the face of the dominant food narrative of this country, but also an affirmation that the small acts of food sovereignty happening across the country add up to a powerful, vital collective. Up today: Urban Tree Connection, Philadelphia, PA. Story and photos by David Hanson.

A willow tree grows on a corner lot in the Haddington Neighborhood of West Philadelphia. It stands twenty-five-feet tall and thirty feet wide, as shady and rain-proof as a gazebo. Lisa Barkley is in her 50s now, but she remembers climbing the willow tree as a girl.

“I didn’t know it was a willow then,” she says. “When I found out, I couldn’t believe we had a water-thirsty willow tree right in the middle of the city. Then I discovered there’s a creek running under this lot.”

A babbling brook running beside a willow shade tree is difficult to imagine in Haddington. This part of West Philly is densely packed with empty lots and townhouses, some falling in on themselves, or burned out from the inside through the roof, only the molded siding and desperate vines clinging to the original structure. But despite the decay in the buildings, the urban bustle of life courses through the streets – two mechanics under a car by the curb, senior citizens in formal dress leaving a church service, kids on bikes, guys hanging under the eave of La Pearl Social Club. Lisa has lived in Haddington her whole life. She says it’s not what it was in the late fifties and sixties when she remembers a happy childhood playing in the streets, but it’s better than the low point a few decades ago.

The creek might be long-since buried beneath pavement and homes, but the willow tree still pulls from it and around the willow Lisa and her partner Ann Topping, with help from the Urban Tree Connection and a growing contingent of neighborhood volunteers and children, have cultivated an orchard of peach, apple, cherry, plum, apricot, nectarine, and pear trees. Behind the orchard sit brightly painted picnic tables in an old parking lot. Colorful concrete chunks block vehicles from entering the lot. It’s not a state-of-the-art playground as found in wealthier neighborhoods, but it’s a big step up from the lot’s previous life as hideaway parking for stolen cars.

Across the alley that leads to Lisa’s public housing unit (the same one Lisa’s now-deceased mom moved her and Lisa’s siblings into after her husband died), a patchwork of raised beds grows vegetables and herbs, tended to by the five- to seventeen-year-old Veggie Kids program. Some of the kids have stayed in the program for five years, growing with the produce.

Lisa walks me down a side alley and onto the main artery of 54th Street. It’s the route she’s taken a million times to get to the Capital Theater on 52nd and Gerard. We pass the old fire station that’s been renovated and converted into a senior center. Behind it, in another empty lot, grows a rose garden tended by the seniors. Dark green vines texture the red brick walls surrounding the patch of urban roses. A mural painted on a two-story brick wall to one side of the garden depicts a bucolic, blue-sky landscape with an older man seated against a tree, reading.

We zig-zag through the neighborhood and Lisa points out three more growing projects on formerly empty lots. One has raised beds with weeds growing from them. She tells me that the residents in those apartments didn’t take much interest in the garden. No one stepped up to take charge like she and Ann had done with their patch eight years ago.

“It takes a spark from one or two or three residents,” she says. “Someone has to stick with it and make it happen, especially at the beginning. A couple big problems exist in neighborhoods with lots of rental or public housing: there’s not much to do, and there’s little ownership of the place if you’re just renting. It’s not yours so why put effort into it. These garden and farm projects give people something to do and something they can feel ownership of.”

The Urban Tree Connection started all this growth ten years ago with landscape architect Skip Weiner leading the way. Skip grew up in West Philly in the forties and fifties, twenty years before Lisa roamed the streets. Skip was here when the population was largely white working class. When the whites moved further into the suburbs in the 70s, Weiner saw black people move into the neighborhood, creating a stable, working class community, the one Lisa grew up in.

In the late 70s and 80s things started heading downhill. Working class jobs dried up or headed overseas. Subsidized housing increased over owner-occupied residences. Crime moved in.

Meanwhile, local boy Skip had received his degree in landscape architect from U Penn, during the early ‘70s when there was a lot of conversation about community health. After he lost his conventional landscape architecture job in the late 80’s, Skip started working with kids on urban tree lot plantings. He eventually found himself working with an after-school program in Haddington.

Continue reading >>>

 

This spotlight is a feature on WhyHunger’s digital storytelling website, Community Voices, that showcases grassroots organizations and community leaders through dynamic stories and pictures, to give a real view of projects that are working to alleviate food insecurity and increase communities’ access to nutritious food. We believe that telling one’s story is not only an act of reclaiming in the face of the dominant food narrative of this country, but also an affirmation that the small acts of food sovereignty happening across the country add up to a powerful, vital collective. Up today: Sustainable Food Center, Austin, TX. Story by Andrianna Natsoulas.

 

While the students at Pecan Springs Elementary School in east Austin went through their mid-day class routines, eleven women graduated in a small portable classroom beside the playing field. Each woman was called up to the front of the room to receive her diploma. The rest of the class applauded between bites of food. For the final class, instructor Lorena Cruz taught them to make two dishes: whole wheat penne pasta with tuna, olives, lemon-olive oil dressing, parsley, onions. That meal, using ingredients from the local HEB grocery store, cost $1.48 per serving The other meal was a salmon salad with fresh radishes, celery, parsley, mustard and lemon juice served over corn tortilla or whole wheat pita. It costs $1.09 per serving.

 

Lorena, has been working for ten years with Sustainable Food Center (SFC) of Austin’s The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Alegre® (THK), a program of community-based healthy, affordable cooking courses. She’s seen hundreds of women graduate with the knowledge and confidence to use easily accessible ingredients to make healthy meals for well under $2 per serving. Lorena’s husband left Mexico for Texas before she did. He'd call her and say he missed her, of course, but that he really missed her when it was time to eat. She always cooked for the family in Monterey.

When she moved to Austin to be with her husband she didn't speak English. She got her GED with Buen Samaritano, an Episcopal service organization in town. They pointed her to the new cooking classes being offered by SFC. This was over ten years ago. Lorena attended one where she and the other Latina students learned to cook from instructors who only spoke English. They'd show photo cards of ingredients with the names written in Spanish. She said there were a lot of charades in those first classes. Regardless, Lorena learned to speak English and to read American food labels and to cook healthy on a budget.

SFC has been working for over two decades in Austin. The non-profit’s motto sums up their mission: Grow, Share, Prepare. SFC encourages residents to grow their own food by supporting community-entrenched gardening education courses. To share, they work with farmers to streamline connections with local schools, worksites and food service providers. SFC also manages four weekly farmers markets. Finally, THK uses six-week cooking courses, taught by trained community members and facilitators, to provide free instruction in healthy, affordable food preparation for low-income residents.

THK cooking classes comprise the “Prepare” part of SFC’s multi-pronged approach to improving food security. THK focuses on adults, the people buying and preparing the household’s meals, for the most part. Other programs have focused on integrating food and health education among kids and parents. SFC’s USDA Community Food Project grant from 2007 funded a pilot study for middle schoolers, hoping to figure out ways for the students and their parents to cross-pollinate among the numerous facets of SFC’s programming, from gardening to the farmers markets to cooking lessons.

 

Read the full profile at Community Voices, a WhyHunger digital storytelling site showcasing voices of leaders and communities across the country on the front lines of food justice.

SAPNAThis spotlight is a feature on WhyHunger’s digital storytelling website, Community Voices, that showcases grassroots organizations and community leaders through dynamic stories and pictures, to give a real view of projects that are working to alleviate food insecurity and increase communities’ access to nutritious food. We believe that telling one’s story is not only an act of reclaiming in the face of the dominant food narrative of this country, but also an affirmation that the small acts of food sovereignty happening across the country add up to a powerful, vital collective. Up today: SAPNA, the Bronx, NY. Story by David Hanson.

The apartment's small kitchen steams with the flavorful scent of cumin, ginger, turmeric, cardamom, clove, cinnamon and garlic. Slender pieces of chicken simmer in a yellow curry. On a platter, a handful of bright green, fiery-hot chili peppers sit atop fresh-sliced tomatoes and onions. A bowl of steamed rice waits to the side. Rubyna (Ruby) Begum and Rahima Akhter work their culinary magic, dressed in traditional salwar kameez dresses, both just as colorful as the brilliant meal being prepared. It's almost noon and the two women are in the office of SAPNA, a non profit established in 2008 to develop, implement and evaluate community-led programs that support South Asian women in the Bronx's Westchester Square and Parkchester neighborhoods. Today, Ruby and Rahima will demonstrate a typical cooking partnership that is a core program of SAPNA's approach to addressing the social and health-related needs for many of the Bronx's South Asian women.

SAPNARahima came to the US only a few years ago. It was a completely foreign landscape and language. For her first two years, Rahima never wanted to take the subway alone, only with her husband. Finding work was even more of a challenge. Ruby has been in the US for almost two decades. She remembers arriving here as a young bride, her husband having immigrated by visa a few years before she arrived via the diversity visa lottery extended to Bangladesh until recently. She didn't know the language either. Meeting people and establishing community, especially one with a shared language and experience, seemed impossible in the vast urban landscape of the Bronx.

Thousands of immigrants arrive to the US each year. They come to flee oppression or poverty in their homelands or for the promise of opportunity through education. The idea of America as a refuge that offers hope, freedom and a new beginning has seduced immigrants for more than 500 years. But often the reality feels like landing with your family and a few bags onto a distant planet. As soon as the feet hit the ground in the new home, day-to-day life becomes a challenging reality.

Many immigrant arrivals like Ruby and Rahima move into apartments in an urban environment filled with indecipherable signs, unrecognizable foods and a transportation system that she or he isn't yet qualified for (driving) or can't navigate (public transport). In many cases with South Asian women like Ruby and Rahima, the husband dives into a feverish job search, hopefully landing something, but likely a position that offers low pay and long hours, sometimes with a distant commute adding to the time away from home. The kids get swept into the public school current. And the women are often left at home with their social network and support system on the other side of the globe.

In many South Asian cities or villages, households live as joint families, meaning a mother and father sharing a home or group of homes with their grown children plus their spouses and children. Often, the women work in the home, sharing responsibilities with mothers, aunts, sisters, or cousins. It's a tight-knit community. If not in joint family settings, most South Asian women interact throughout the day with neighbors, many of whom are family members living under different roofs. When a woman immigrates, it is most often with only her husband and children. She leaves behind the rich tapestry of community that existed in and immediately surrounded her home. The immigrant's sudden immersion into a disorienting environment and language coupled with an utter lack of community support can be a debilitating combination.

SAPNAFor many South Asian women, cooking is one of their strengths and a touchstone to the comfort of home. But it can be a pitfall, as well. Back home the most accessible food items were fish, legumes and vegetables, all very healthy, lean staples. Meat was rare, often pricey, and considered a luxury. Here, because America subsidizes the meat industry, it's a much more accessible, affordable option, despite its ecological and health costs. For women like Ruby and Rahima, it can be easy to rely on their new country's cheap, filling meat products, not to mention the myriad of processed junk food options loudly displayed in supermarkets and corner stores. A shift toward unhealthy eating habits like increased meat and processed foods can lead to chronic diet-related illness like diabetes and heart disease, which compound the mental health strains. The link between mental health and diet is a tight one and it can often feed on itself: isolation begets depression begets unhealthy eating begets obesity, possibly disease, which worsens the depression and entrenches the isolation.

Read the full profile at Community Voices, a WhyHunger digital storytelling site showcasing voices of leaders and communities across the country on the front lines of food justice.

Food Sovereignty PrizeWhyHunger is excited to support the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance as they announce the winners of this year's Food Sovereignty Prize!

Black US Farmers, Honduran Afro-Indigenous Share Food Sovereignty Prize

Des Moines, Iowa, United States - September 1,2015 - In this moment when it is vital to assert that Black lives matter, the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance honors Black and Afro-Indigenous farmers, fishermen, and stewards of ancestral lands and water. We especially commemorate them as a vital part of our food and agriculture system – growers and workers who are creating food sovereignty, meaning a world with healthy, ecologically produced food, and democratic control over food systems.

In 2015, the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance’s two prize winners are: the Federation of Southern Cooperatives in the U.S., and the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras. The prizes will be presented in Des Moines on October 14, 2015.

THE FEDERATION OF SOUTHERN COOPERATIVES

The Federation of Southern Cooperatives strengthens a vital piece of food sovereignty: helping keep lands in the hands of family farmers, in this case primarily African-American farmers. The Federation was born in 1967 out of the civil rights movement. Its members are farmers in 10 Southern states, approximately 90 percent of them African-American, but also Native American, Latino, and White.

The Federation’s work is today more important than ever, given that African-American-owned farms in the US have fallen from 14 percent to 1 percent in fewer than 100 years. To help keep farms Black- and family-owned, the Federation promotes land-based cooperatives; provides training in sustainable agriculture and forestry, management, and marketing; and speaks truth to power in local courthouses, state legislatures, and the halls of the U.S. Congress.

Ben Burkett, farmer, Mississippi Association of Cooperatives director and National Family Farm Coalition board president, said, “Our view is local production for local consumption. It’s just supporting mankind as family farmers. Everything we’re about is food sovereignty, the right of every individual on earth to wholesome food, clean water, air and land, and the self-determination of a community to grow and eat what they want. We just recognize the natural flow of life. It’s what we’ve always done.”

THE BLACK FRATERNAL ORGANIZATION OF HONDURAS (OFRANEH)

The grassroots organization OFRANEH was created in 1979 to protect the economic, social, and cultural rights of 46 Garifuna communities along the Atlantic coast of Honduras. At once Afro-descendent and indigenous, the Garifuna people are connected to both the land and the sea, and sustain themselves through farming and fishing. Land grabs for agrofuels (African palm plantations), tourist-resort development, and narco-trafficking seriously threaten their way of life, as do rising sea levels and the increased frequency and severity of storms due to climate change. The Garifuna, who have already survived slavery and colonialism, are now defending and strengthening their land security and their sustainable, small-scale farming and fishing. OFRANEH brings together communities to meet these challenges head-on through direct-action community organizing, national and international legal action, promotion of Garifuna culture, and movement-building. In its work, OFRANEH especially prioritizes the leadership development of women and youth.

Miriam Miranda, Coordinator: “Our liberation starts because we can plant what we eat. This is food sovereignty. There is a big job to do in Honduras and everywhere, because people have to know that they need to produce to bring the autonomy and the sovereignty of our peoples. If we continue to consume [only], it doesn’t matter how much we shout and protest. We need to become producers. It’s about touching the pocketbook, the surest way to overcome our enemies. It’s also about recovering and reaffirming our connections to the soil, to our communities, to our land.”

The Food Sovereignty Prize will be awarded on the evening of October 14 in Des Moines, Iowa. The Food Sovereignty Prize challenges the view that simply producing more food through industrial agriculture and aquaculture will end hunger or reduce suffering. The world currently produces more than enough food, but unbalanced access to wealth means the inadequate access to food. Real solutions protect the rights to land, seeds and water of family farmers and indigenous communities worldwide and promote sustainable agriculture through agroecology. The communities around the world who struggle to grow their food and take care of their land have long known that destructive political, economic, and social policies, as well as militarization.

The USFSA represents a network of food producers and labor, environmental, faith-based, social justice and anti-hunger advocacy organizations. Additional supporters of the 2015 Food Sovereignty Prize include Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom-Des Moines chapter and the Small Planet Fund.

For event updates and background on food sovereignty and the prize winners, visit www.foodsovereigntyprize.org. Also, visit the Food Sovereignty Prize on Facebook and join the conversation on Twitter (#foodsovprize).

 

This spotlight is a feature on WhyHunger’s digital storytelling website, Community Voices, that showcases grassroots organizations and community leaders through dynamic stories and pictures, to give a real view of projects that are working to alleviate food insecurity and increase communities’ access to nutritious food. We believe that telling one’s story is not only an act of reclaiming in the face of the dominant food narrative of this country, but also an affirmation that the small acts of food sovereignty happening across the country add up to a powerful, vital collective. Up today: Community Servings, Boston, MA. Story and pictures by David Hanson.

Community Servings (CS) has humble beginnings as a Jewish outreach organization responding to AIDS in the late '80s. To this day, but especially early during the AIDS epidemic, malnutrition was a major cause of death. The simple act of feeding people properly who were diagnosed HIV+ could keep them alive. Food was a viable form of medicine. Community Servings has evolved to develop more diverse eligibility criteria, drawing clients from over 200 referral partners. It now provides medically tailored meal services to homebound families and individuals with acute life-threatening illness. Roughly 1000 individuals receive packages of five meals per week. It's not just any healthy food. Community Servings has learned the importance of preparing beautiful, colorful, fragrant food that appeals to people who lack an appetite due to chronic illness.

Crafting such a complex menu falls on the shoulders of Chef Kevin Conner. Conner has almost two decades of experience in kitchens, including as a culinary arts professor and executive chef at the Federal Reserve. When Connor was 16 he lost his mother to diabetes so he knows how food can help and harm a body.

"With this job, the people don't just come into the restaurant, eat the meal, then forget about it." Connor says. "The five meals we're delivering weekly touch their hearts and souls. We try to give the clients comfortable, familiar meals. We're always adapting the menu. For instance, we might make a meatloaf, but we have to be careful with ketchup (sugar) for diabetics so we come up with recipes for a tasty, ketchup-free meatloaf."

community servingsConnor works closely with Community Serving's nutrition department to understand the best ingredients for the clients' diverse needs. Connor is currently developing a cookbook with over 100 meals tailored to specific diets, a veritable pharmaceutical catalog of food is medicine. Everything is scratch-made to control preservatives, especially sodium and sugar. Each week, the clients receive a box with a loaf of bread, a quart of milk and five days of meals: lunch, dinner and snack at a cost of $25 per day.The kitchen operation is big, fast, mechanized and efficient. Because of clients' weakened immune systems, extra care must be taken to remain 100% free of bacteria, especially since a large chunk of kitchen prep work is done by volunteer groups (65,000 volunteer hours/year).

"We (Community Servings) consider ourselves to be essential role players in the creative treatment of low-income individuals," says Jean Terranova, director of Food and Health Policy at Community Servings. "We can make the case to health care providers that our meals cost no more than $25 per day per patient while a hospital bed costs around $2500 per day. If healthy, appropriate food can keep those high-frequency patients from returning to the hospital, which Medicaid might not pay for, then that's a big savings for hospitals and a big opportunity for us and others in our field."

There is nothing new to the idea that poor nutrition leads to chronic long-term illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. Healthy eating has long proven to be one of the most effective preventative measures, although access to healthy food remains a major challenge in many low-income communities. But what about food's role in the treatment of sick patients? What about looking at food is medicine? Community Servings has been trying to fill that need, on a small scale, for decades. Now there's hope that new policies could shift the movement into higher gear. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has opened the door to a vigorous conversation about new strategies for bringing together food and nutrition security providers to the table with hospitals and insurers.

Since 1969, federal standards have mandated that non-profit hospitals provide community benefits in order to maintain tax-exempt status. The majority of "community benefits" covered the cost of care for uninsured or underinsured patients. The ACA aims to have two profound effects on that model. For one, the ACA will vastly reduce the number of uninsured Americans, many of whom were without coverage due to pre-existing conditions. So there will be less need to allocate community benefit funds to cover costs of uninsured patient care. Secondly, the ACA better articulates the community benefit obligations for non-profit accountable care organizations (ACO), groups of doctors, hospitals and other health care organizations that voluntarily coalesce to give coordinated care to Medicare patients.

Read the full profile at Community Voices, a WhyHunger digital storytelling site showcasing voices of leaders and communities across the country on the front lines of food justice.

BreslinThis is the 2nd profile in a 3-part series. Story and photos by Siena Chrisman.

To reach Breslin Farms, you drive through what feels like a sea of corn. The northern Illinois land is vast and flat, subdivided by a grid of country roads that meet at perfectly right angles before continuing on due east and west, north and south. The corn fields stretch as far as the eye can see, interrupted only by soybean fields and the occasional grain storage bin. You know something is different about Breslin Farms on the approach—a dirt road turns onto a small bridge, and suddenly the plants are not corn but tall prairie grasses and saplings, the ground is hilly around a stream, and birds fly out of underbrush and wheel overhead. Continuing onto the farm, the fields are different too. There are still row crops like the surrounding corn and soybeans, but the plots are smaller and the plants more varied. Next to the equipment shed are a vegetable garden and a large test plot—unusual sights on an Illinois row crop farm.

Molly Breslin and her father John grow organic and heirloom beans and grains; an island in the middle of the sea of corn. Molly's mother Peg's family farmed for years; when John married Peg, he helped out her father and brothers on nights and weekends. Years later, he began volunteering on an organic vegetable farm, becoming valuable enough to be hired as a farm hand. Molly meanwhile headed to college at Berkeley, where she got involved in cooking in the student cooperative houses. After graduation, she led outdoor education trips with teenagers in northern Minnesota, and interned with an organic apple farmer and produce distributor. She wanted to do something "more essential to life," she says, and something that would let her be outdoors, work hard and make a difference. Farming fit the bill.

BreslinAs it happened, there was land in the family. Peg had inherited almost 90 acres of her family's farm, and agreed to let John and Molly try out their farming dreams on it. As John remembers it, Molly's first question—"we're going to do organic now, right?" —was obvious, if not easy or immediate, as the organic certification process takes three years. What to grow was more complicated. Beginning with nearly 90 acres of vegetables would have made a daunting project even more so, and there was already a thriving market in local produce. Their Farm Beginnings farm business and training class encouraged them to find and fill the gaps in their local food system; looking around at their local Chicago farmers' market, they found there was no local flour. "And in terms of food security and sovereignty," says John, "grains are really important."

In 2010, Breslin Farms began, growing red winter wheat, heirloom beans, sweet corn, field corn and soybeans. They also keep bees, primarily for pollination, and experiment with fruit trees and vegetables. The farm received its organic certification in 2012, and they have found that the market for organic grains and beans is significant. The wheat is milled for Chicago restaurants; the seed company buys back the soybeans for seed; the corn goes into the organic commodity market where it is mostly sold for chicken feed; and the edible beans are sold directly to restaurants and to distributors in Chicago and St. Louis.

In line with organic standards, the farm is surrounded by 45-foot buffer zones, with a total of five acres of land between its crops and the herbicide-reliant corn around it. Just as important, it has engaged neighbors who appreciate what Molly and John are doing, and may even be willing to learn from it.

Continue reading on WhyHunger's Digital StoryTelling Website.

About the Author Siena Chrisman has worked on sustainable food and farm issues for more than a decade. Her writing has appeared in Civil Eats, Modern Farmer and Grist, among other outlets. Formerly an organizer and writer with WhyHunger, where she was director of the online Food Security Learning Center and manager of the Connect Blog, her current freelance research and writing focuses on commodity farmers, livestock and farm policy. Siena was raised on raw milk in rural Massachusetts, and now lives in Brooklyn.

Santa Barbara

This spotlight is a feature in a series of the USDA Community Food Project Competitive Grant Program (CFP) completed for WhyHunger’s digital storytelling website, Community Voices, that showcases grassroots organizations and community leaders through dynamic stories and pictures, to give a real view of projects that are working to alleviate food insecurity and increase communities’ access to nutritious food. We believe that telling one’s story is not only an act of reclaiming in the face of the dominant food narrative of this country, but also an affirmation that the small acts of food sovereignty happening across the country add up to a powerful, vital collective. Up today: Santa Barbara Food Bank, CA. Story and pictures by David Hanson.

Elisa had never heard of free food. That's not why she came to America with her two young boys, age ten and twelve, from Jalisco, Mexico. She heard about jobs and opportunities for her children to be educated and move up in life. So she came into the country and made her way to the central California town of Santa Barbara.

Elisa is a strong woman – no one who isn't could survive her journey into this country. But she is a very quiet, shy woman. She had family to stay with in the small, bedroom community of Isla Vista, CA for a short time, but she soon found a job cleaning a house in a wealthy neighborhood of Santa Barbara so she moved her children into an apartment. This was the first time she'd ever had to pay rent. Back in Jalisco, she'd lived in a family house that they owned. She was making some money here, but America can be expensive.

A friend at church told her about the monthly food bank distribution option. Bundles of produce, canned goods, dry products and dairy were distributed at the church. She said, "Gracias a Dios," and she stretched it over a month to feed her family and save money for bills.

Old Town Goleta is a tight-knit community, mostly of Latino descent. The small, affordable homes and old apartments cluster within striking distance of the area's jobs – agriculture to the north and service jobs in homes and hospitality to the south.

Like any small town, word spreads fast here, which can be good or bad. On the bad side, there's a local sense that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is always lurking, and the wrong kind of word can get you or a family-member deported. So there's mistrust and fear, especially around signing up for government programs. But there are advantages to a tight-knit, word-of-mouth community and the ground-level, extended-family-to-extended-family communication element can be a powerful tool to incite communities to organize around healthy food.

Read the full profile at Community Voices, a WhyHunger digital storytelling site showcasing voices of leaders and communities across the country on the front lines of food justice.

This spotlight is a feature in a series of the USDA Community Food Project Competitive Grant Program (CFP) completed for WhyHunger’s digital storytelling website, Community Voices, that showcases grassroots organizations and community leaders through dynamic stories and pictures, to give a real view of projects that are working to alleviate food insecurity and increase communities' access to nutritious food. We believe that telling one's story is not only an act of reclaiming in the face of the dominant food narrative of this country, but also an affirmation that the small acts of food sovereignty happening across the country add up to a powerful, vital collective. Up today: FareStart, Seattle, WA. Story and pictures by David Hanson.

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A four-year-old carrying an adult-size food tray is a funny thing. It looks like a construction worker hauling a sheet of dry-wall from one end of the house to the other. It takes concentration and focus. The pre-K students at West Seattle Montessori have been taught to carry their trays directly in front of them, and to look at the tray and the ground as they slowly walk back to their classroom where they will eat. In this way, they spend at least a minute or two, as they walk, tray out on extended arms like a ring-bearer, smelling and looking closely at the plate of food that they just learned about thanks to the Fresh Lunch program. It’s an intimate food moment, really.

These are the kinds of food connections that can shape young people’s eating habits. The West Seattle students eat a variety of dishes, from vegetable lasagna to sweet-potato quesadillas. Two mothers volunteer with the school’s Fresh Lunch program, dishing out the meals two days a week. Parents sign up for the voluntary program (otherwise, students bring their own lunches from home), and it costs $3.75 per meal for the younger students and $4 per meal for the older kids (West Seattle goes up to 8th grade).

Deb, one of the mothers who volunteers for Fresh Lunch and serves the meals every Tuesday, is working her second year with the program. Her son is in the first grade. As she dishes out a scoop of egg fried rice with bok choy and Natalia, the other volunteer and mother of first and second graders, places cantaloupe chunks on their plates, Deb tells the students about the food: protein from the eggs, vegetable nutrients from the bok choy. She’s curious to see how the program will stick with the younger students as they get older. If they’ll have expanded and healthier palates because of the Fresh Lunch variety of dishes.

The big-picture connection with West Seattle Montessori, a relatively affluent school in the otherwise low to middle-income White Center community south of Seattle, is the organization that provides the twice-weekly Fresh Lunch program.

FareStart cooked that fried rice and chunked the cantaloupe that arrived to West Seattle earlier in the morning. FareStart is a darling of Seattle’s non-profit food security world. It has found a  sweet spot in the progressive, socially-conscious city by combining good, local food with positive, enriching job training, and it does it from a stylish kitchen and designer restaurant space in the heart of downtown. In fact, when walking past 7th Ave on Virginia St, you can look through the giant, sidewalk-level windows and see the chefs, cooks, and trainees at work.

FareStart uses revenue generated from its lunches and weekly Guest Chef Night (local chef prepares distinctive meals), plus other sources, to fund its job training and placement programs. Disadvantaged and homeless men and women and at-risk teens work in the kitchens to receive on-the-job training and skills to help place them back in the workforce. The program, which has been operating as a non-profit since 1992, graduates over 150 students in recent years, 80% of whom move into living-wage employment. Its success has gone nationwide with the launch of Catalyst Kitchens to bring similar programming to other communities.

Read the full profile at Community Voices, a WhyHunger digital storytelling site showcasing voices of leaders and communities across the country on the front lines of food justice.

This spotlight is a feature in a series of the USDA Community Food Project Competitive Grant Program (CFP). Grantees are doing some of the most innovative and collaborative projects to change local and regional food systems. WhyHunger’s www. — also funded by a CFP grant — is profiling these organizations through dynamic stories and pictures, to give a real flavor of what the projects look like and how they’re accomplishing their goals. Up today: Ingersoll Gardens and the Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project in Brooklyn, NY. Story, pictures and video by David Hanson.

ingersoll gardensA half-century of the American urban narrative has unfolded in the Brooklyn neighborhood below Edna Grant’s apartment. She moved into Ingersoll Houses 55 years ago so through her window she’s seen the tale of post World War boom, then the manufacturing collapse of the 70s, a few decades of unemployment and crime, then the revitalization, and now the gentrification. But Ms. Grant’s house always stayed clean.

“I’m a captain of this building,” she says. “Me and the co-captain keep it clean and we don’t let people hang out in the hallways.”

Ms. Grant had a career as a book binder. Books for courts, schools, libraries, even cruise ships. She has an easy laugh and a playfully self-deprecating sense of humor. She uses a walker to get around and needs to sit and rest after a while. Ms. Grant raised five kids, four of them adopted from her daughter after she passed away. The train used to run from across the street to the rest of the city. Ms. Grant has been planted here in this corner of Brooklyn, a witness, participant, and place-maker of her community. It’s no surprise that the community food movement of the 2000s found her, like someone seeking shade might spot a sprawling, welcoming tree.

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The Ingersoll Houses went up in 1944 during the war-time boom days. The Brooklyn Navy Yard had attracted a skilled-labor population to the area with over 70,000 jobs. Ingersoll and nearby Walt Whitman apartment complexes housed many Yard sailors and employees. Encouraged by Walt Whitman, Brooklyn built its first park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Now Brooklyn’s iconic Fort Greene Park ends across Myrtle Avenue from Ingersoll Houses.

A decade after Ms. Grant moved in, however, the bloom had faded from Myrtle Avenue. The Navy Yard shut down in the 1970s along with the elevated subway track. Like much of metro New York at that time, the neighborhood fell into financial and social decline.

Read the full profile at Community Voicesa WhyHunger digital storytelling site showcasing voices of leaders and communities across the country on the front lines of food justice.

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